Photo courtesy of North Texas SC
With the league’s best offense and the league’s best defense squaring off one final time to see who will lift the USL League One Trophy, I wanted to break down which club has the advantage in each area of the field and on the sideline.
Goalkeeping – Greenville
It’s no surprise that Greenville gets the check mark for this section with the USL League One Golden Glove winner Dallas Jaye between the posts. Jaye finished the regular season with a league-leading 0.78 goals against and continued with a dominating performance in the Semifinal match on the road against Lansing Ignite FC. Jaye made crucial four saves to hear his 14th clean sheet of the season in the Semifinals, including this decisive fingertip save off the line. While North Texas had the assistance of FC Dallas goalkeeper Jimmy Maurer last week, the MLS side’s playoff game on Saturday means North Texas will have to rely on Carlos Avilez, who, is a great ‘keeper in his own right, he’s just not Dallas Jaye.
Defense – Greenville
Greenville’s Gandalf backline is the stingiest in the league and simply will not let you pass through their shape. With 14 clean sheets throughout the year, the Triumph average less than a goal allowed per game. Center backs Kevin Politz and Evan Lee are rarely out of position, which allows for versatile defenders Cole Seiler and Tyler Polak to move up and win the ball in advantageous positions in midfield that set Greenville up to attack. The Triumph only conceded one penalty kick all season; you’ll rarely see last-minute tackles from a Politz or Lee who combined for 150 clearances this year. It’s this dependability and organization that allowed Polak to lead the league in interceptions. Greenville’s organized back line will be a struggle for North Texas to break down.
Midfield – North Texas
I have to imagine watching North Texas’ passing is like seeing Thomas Savery introduce the first steam engine in 1698. The explosiveness, the smoothness of a Sade album, the system, everything about this midfield is dangerous. Last week, the North Texas midfield dominated, finishing with an 85 percent passing rate on 282 passes. To compare, their Semifinal opponent Forward Madison FC completed only 73 percent of their 298 passes, and not just the midfield but THE ENTIRE TEAM! North Texas lives off of wearing teams down by passing and possessing, which should limit the time Omar Mohammed, Carlos Gomez, and the rest of Greenville’s playmakers have on the ball.
Forwards – North Texas
North Texas has had six different players line up as strikers throughout the season and five of the six have scored. In Head Coach Eric Quill’s system, the strikers benefit immensely from the midfielders’ creative play. North Texas has the edge in this area of the field even with Ricardo Pepi out of the lineup. NTSC will be able to line up Ronaldo Damus at the No. 9 spot, where he won the Golden Boot award this season, scoring 16 goals while putting 60 percent of his shots on target. With the midfielders’ ability to provide quality service, Damus, or anybody Quill wants to pick out from his stack of weapons to play striker, will find success getting on the end of through balls and crosses.
This is an amazing shot by @Ricardo_Pepi9, but there are 5 players who make this an even better team goal for @northtexasSC. Here’s a breakdown of how it happened & why NTX’s passing is the best in @USLLeagueOne.— Jason W (@HomeSweetSoccer) October 14, 2019
(sorry I don’t have my mic on me) #USL #WeAreNext #DTID #USMNT pic.twitter.com/tTTbw3h2QM
Coaching – Greenville
I believe the most important factor in a playoff or championship game is coaching, and while North Texas’ Eric Quill is a strong contender for the USL League One Coach of the Year award, Greenville’s John Harkes has a one-up on Quill because of his experience. With an extensive resume and a USL Championship playoff game under his belt, Harkes has the advantage on the sideline. What Harkes has done over the last two months has been nothing short of impressive – he rallied his side to a third-place finish after losing his leading goal-scorer, earned victories in difficult multiple-game road trips to clinch a playoff berth, and went on the road to beat the No. 2 seed that hadn’t lost at home since April. Harkes has the edge over Quill, but will it be enough for the Triumph to take the title back to Greenville?